Sunday, February 7, 2016

Season 33 AL South Preview

The Royals spend big...Rays swap hitting for pitching...Rangers hope to jell...Sounds stand pat

Kansas City Royals
Season 32:  86-76
GM: tdfactory

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses: Offense actually functioned pretty well (757 runs) considering they only hit 154 HR's (16th).  They got on base pretty well (.339 OBP - 5th), stole bases efficiently (123 out of 152attempts).  C/DH's Shea and Escobar, 1B Mercedes, and CF Lintz handled the bulk of the run production (86 HR's); Ryota Chen (who incidentally played 6 positions) swiped 50 bags in 52 tries.  Their 706 runs allowed was good for 5th.  They had their original 5 starters start all 162 games (and we have the gall to complain about injuries), but it was middle relievers Pederson (6 wins, 4 saves, 2.64 ERA in 139 IP) and Rivera (7 wins, 5 saves, 2.78 ERA in 129 IP) who really shined.  Put a couple more bats in that lineup and this team could be dangerous in the playoffs.  At $84.6MM, the ML payroll isn't skinny but should have room for a couple of hitters.

Addressed In Offseason:  From GM tdfactory:

"Kansas City- Senior Management came together in the offseason and agreed that the window for this team is now, after winning the division title last year but losing in the playoffs, ownership granted management with an increased payroll to $129 million. The scouts identified targets and then GM Tdfactory made contact and sealed several deals that look to strengthen the club for a title chase this season. 

'The offseason focus was on adding some power to the lineup and bolstering the pitching staff and the goals were accomplished. 

'1B/LF Orlando James and 2B Rabbit Grilli will add power into the lineup, with a combined 141 HR's between them over the past two seasons. The Royals now boast 6 players in the lineup that had at least 20 HR's last season. The offense should see a boost in production this year with the additions. 

'The pitching staff received an infusion as well, with Pitchers Spud Bando, Asdrubal Rivera, and Fautino Martin all joining the staff. Spring Training will determine who will be in the rotation or leading the way out of the bullpen. Another thrown into that mix is Desmond Wengert, who was retained for another season with the Royals. His time in the rotation looks most likely to end with a move to the bullpen likely. 

'The only real loss from the pitching staff was low ERA but only 6 game winner last season Spike O'Brien who has moved on to Tampa Bay. We feel his production will easily be replaced with the incoming FA class. 

'Other notable losses were 2B Miguel Gonzalez and P Santos Gardel, both of whom have left for the West Coast, joining San Francisco. Other FA losses were minimal, with those departing still remaining FA's. 

'One new face joining from the farm is Carl Corbin, a utility player that will provide a nice bat off the bench and the ability to fill in as a solid backup for the Royals. 

'Overall, the expectations are rising and the fan base is expecting big things this season. A trip deep into the playoffs is the expectation, with many fans calling for a Trophy or else this season."

Tampa Bay Rays
Season 32:  85-77
GM: jthornton75

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses:  The playoff miss was unfamiliar territory for jthornton after 7 straight AL South titles (and a WS win in that streak).  Their scoring was actually up (to 831 - 6th) from Season 31 - but they allowed 54 more runs, and that was just enough to let KC slip by them by a game. The offense features the long ball (252 HR's - 2nd) - DH Chris Freel and RF Shawn Quinn topped 40 and 4 more KC batters topped 20.  They were pretty good at getting on base (.334 - t8th) but rather plodding when they got there (40 SB's were last in the AL and they got caught 30 times).  Among the pitchers, Villalona (13-7, 2.96) was excellent as usual, and relievers Rapp (3 wins, 8 saves, 1.61) and Lui (3 wins, 14 saves, 2.40) had great campaigns.  But the rest of the starters were average to poor - Harry Prado's 4.85 ERA was more than a run above his career number, so there's a good chance for a bounce-back there.  The Rays played excellent defense - the .988 fielding % was #1, and they had a very good 76/20 +/-.

Addressed In Offseason:  

Rays management made one of the offseason's bolder moves when they traded Shawn Quinn (and his 43 jacks) to OAK for Max Mullens.  In addition, Mullens comes with a hefty price tag ($14.9 million per).  But he's the real deal - 3.12 ERA and 230 innings a year. They also added 1B Yeico Cervelli and SP Spike O'Brien through free agency.  Last year's 3B, Mel Frascatore, takes over in RF for Quinn and rookie Peter Hatcher (#41 overall in Sea 29) moves in at 3B.  So we're likely to see some pitching improvement at the cost of some power in Tampa Bay.

Texas Rangers
Season 32:  74-88
GM:  bperkins

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses:  The Rangers have been promoting the fruits of their Season 25-30 rebuild (Sea 29 #3 Brooks, Sea 28 #22 Logan, Sea 29 #15 Sanders, Season 26 #7 Basile) for the last couple of seasons, mixing them with aging veterans (some not very good) in attempt to gain relevance.  The combination just didn't ignite last year (74 wins) despite Brooks' co-MVP season and some other good seasons.  While the offense wasn't great (730 runs - 13th) it was the pitching (868 runs allowed) and defense (nearly 100 unearned runs) that really did them in.  Of the 15 pitchers who saw ML action for Texas, 2 had sub-4.00 ERA's, and one of those left in FA.

Addressed In Offseason:  One of Texas' shrewder moves last year was the very reasonable ($9.8MM) signing of advanced (ratings-wise) OF Harry Ruiz and his quick promotion to the majors.  He posted a promising .922 OPS in 18 games to claim the starting LF job.  They also picked up vet SP Luther Simmons and RP prospect John Randall in a late-season trade - the hope is that both contribute big to rejuvenated staff. They added RP's Nigel Sugawara and Albert Calderon in FA.   But it's possible that the bulk of amy pitching improvement comes from holdovers - Basile, Griffin, Cortes and Simmons all could (if not should) have much better seasons.  If they do, the AL South could become very interesting.

Nashville Sounds
Season 32:  68-94
GM:  fallball

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses: The Sounds dropped 12 wins from Season 31, and the blame spreads to everyone.  Pitching - the 4.95 ERA was 13th in the AL (the 44 "-" plays, 5th most - didn't help).  They only had 3 pitchers under 4.00 ERA:  Otto Little (3.25, and that was a bad number for him), Branden Wilkerson (3.38, but only pitched 38 innings), and Cesar Carrera (3.79, which was a little under his career average.  The offense scored 59 fewer runs despite hitting more HR's and raising the OPS a few points.  Young 1B Victor Coffie had another nice season (.308/20/90, .846 OPS), 2B Cristobal Rios went .307/15/50 in 345 AB's, rookie RF Arthur Donovan smacked 29 HR's, and 3B Lenny Taylor drove in 97 runs.  They didn't really have a DH - Donovan DH'd more than he played RF - and could really use another bat somewhere on the field.

Addressed In Offseason:

No trades or free-agent signings, just some promotions of backup-type position players. The Sounds are banking on rebound seasons from a number of the players that have bee on the roster for awhile. 

Division Outlook:

I'm picking Kansas City to repeat, although I wouldn't be surprised if Tampa Bay bounced back and won.  Texas breaks through to 85 wins.

Awards Watch

Rabbit Grilli is certainly capable of winning another MVP.  Max Mullens could be in the Cy Young conversation; outside shot at that for Vic Villalona.  Texas might have a very long shot to have contenders in all 3 major awards:  Brooks for MVP; Max Basile for CY; and Harry Ruiz for ROY.  Nashville's Otto Little his the quality stuff for CY...probably not quite enough innings.  If CF R.J. Rosado could muster a huge offensive year - something like .325/19HR/85 RBI, 40 SB, 100 runs - and combine it with a GG in CF (he has 1 already), those are the kinds of credentials MVP voters love.

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